By bonding carbon nanofibres to carbon foam, PhD candidate Patrick Wenmakers at the Eindhoven University of Technology has developed a new ‘hairy foam’ structure on which catalytic systems can be made.
A catalyst is a material that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being consumed in it. For the greatest possible effect, the surface area of the catalyst must be as large as possible.
According to Wenmakers, his new structure is sturdy, easy to produce and relatively inert to other materials. But best of all, it sports a surface area around a thousand times greater than that of the original foam, making it an excellent basic structure for catalytic systems.
It also has a second advantage: the structure is very open, allowing substances to pass through it easily. This reduces the chance of creating undesirable by-products, because no chemicals can become ‘stuck’ in it and cause unwanted reactions.
Wenmakers expects to gain his PhD in one-and-a-half years with the research, which is being supported by Technology Foundation STW and a number of companies. He can’t yet say how soon those companies will start to use his product, but he emphasises that it is suitable for ‘large numbers of different reactions’.